Before today’s walking journey, I want to tell about last night’s ryokan stay, which featured that special blend of travel joy of the new and fear of the same. The room was traditional – tatami mats and sliding ricepaper doors; the old building warren-like and creaky; the toilets shared, and one brushed one’s teeth practically in the middle of things. I also took my first onsen (hot communal bath), although thankfully no one joined me, because I was so worried about doing it wrong – there are so many rules! I had a fabulous dinner served at a low table shared with an older Japanese man in his yukata (robe) who spoke no English. I copied everything about how he ate, except for the burping. Throughout the night, I heard everything from snores to barking and the owner’s kids being kids, with some mystery noises throw in for that authentic Spirited Away effect. Breakfast was great, and I was out door after the appropriate bows. What a night.
I made my way forward on part of the Nakasendo way that passes through bamboo forests, past ancient hamlets and front doors, beside rivers and rice paddies, and all kinds of other surprising sights along the way (western art, high fashion tailors). It was such a beautiful morning – how lucky to be walking through Japan’s countryside in May!
The plan was to walk a few hours, catch a train, and then walk four more, but two things changed that: 1, pains started popping in spots hitherto pain free, and 2, the description of the path included the words “hardest route” and “steep inclines” so I opted out of the second phase. My body has been a good friend all these years, so I decided not to push things.
I’m staying tonight in another ryokan in Narai, this one in continuous use since the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). It too is old and lovely. I shall report on its quirks and secrets tomorrow.
Here are some photos. Enjoy!
Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.